“Ang issue lang naman diyan (the only issue) is corruption. Kung hindi ka (if you are not) corrupt, you can just work. So that’s the definition of your work,” Duterte said when pressed if a Cabinet revamp is in the offing after Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol offered to resign from his post early this week.
Duterte said there is no revamp in his Cabinet ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) next month. “Wala. Except that if there’s a new – an old and new… Cabinet position ang Mindanao Authority.”
Duterte clarified that Piñol is not being moved to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDa) because of corruption issues.
“Wala. Corruption, wala. It is not corruption. He is not corrupt. He’s just talkative,” the President said.
Known for his wisecracks, Duterte said he might need to “kill” four to five Cabinet members to be able to implement a revamp, but at present he is deciding who these are.
“Ilang bakante? Ilan ba ‘yung...? Gusto ko ng medyo hindi naman major. Mini revamp, mini lang, mini revamp. Ang mga position? Magpili pa ako kung sinong patayin ko sa kanila. Salamat po,” Duterte said.
Piñol has decided not to comment further on his resignation.
“President Duterte has described me as ‘just talkative,’ so there will be less audio coming from my side from now on,” he said.
“Until such time the President decides on where to field me to wage another battle, I will continue my advocacies and work in the DA,” Piñol added.
Piñol had offered to resign on Thursday afternoon, with Duterte indicating readiness to accept the resignation.
The former journalist has also indicated his interest in being transferred to the MinDa, which Duterte seemed willing to grant.
Duterte stressed that Piñol is not involved in corruption, and said he was still looking for a new agriculture chief.
Piñol drew flak for his handling of the 22 fishermen who figured in the Recto Bank incident and the rice supply lack that saw the prices of the staple skyrocket.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President is keen on his anti-corruption campaign in the government.
No Cabinet member is on the chopping block for now, despite Duterte making a sarcastic remark about the matter on Thursday, Panelo said yesterday.
Rolando Dy, an agricultural economist and professor of the University of Asia and Pacific, said the new agriculture secretary should be able to recalibrate resources with farmers and other stakeholders to improve the agricultural sector and reduce rural poverty.
“He must engage more dynamic local government units, these are the front lines of the agriculture sector. DA is the toughest department to manage so it needs a topnotch manager and team,” Dy said.
With Piñol’s exit, several names have already been floated to replace him, even as the President has yet to announce his options.
One of the industry’s consensus bets is former agriculture chief William Dar who was said to be Duterte’s first choice for the position in 2016. Two months ago, sources said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III again recommended Dar to replace Piñol.
“I am ready to serve the country again under the strong leadership of President Duterte if offered the post,” Dar told The STAR.
Currently out of the country, Dar said he has yet to hear anything from Malacañang.
“Dar has the agriculture background and global and local experience,” Dy said.
Piñol, in his resignation letter to the President, has recommended three agriculture undersecretaries – Waldo Carpio, Ariel Cayanan and Francisco Villano – to replace him.
“We hope DA will move towards science-based policy. It opens a way forward at the very least,” Meat Importers and Traders Association president Jess Cham said.
International advocacy group Oceana, meanwhile, recognized the fact that Piñol led the agriculture portfolio in the most challenging era.
“But we hope the successor knows the issues in both agriculture and fisheries sector, fully implements the amended Fisheries Code without fear or favor, collaborates strongly with other government agencies and with civil society sectors, especially the artisanal fishers,” Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos said. – With Louise Maureen Simeon